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Malaysia's opposition files objections to proposed new vote boundaries

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad waves as he leaves after he was stopped from visiting jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who is recuperating from a surgery at Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia January 10, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin


KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's opposition and an election watchdog submitted objections on Tuesday to the redrawing of some constituency boundaries, which they said would favour Prime Minister Najib Razak in a general election due by August.

The Election Commission is reviewing electoral boundaries for more than half of Malaysia's 222 parliamentary seats.

Opponents of the redrafting say it is unconstitutional and could skew voting in favour of Najib's ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional (BN).

The government denies the accusation.

"Given the high number of objections ... the Election Commission needs to prioritise the people's involvement in the redelineation process and ensure that all objections are given space to be heard in a public inquiry," Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, leader of the Pakatan Harapan opposition alliance, told reporters.

Wan Azizah and representatives of the electoral watchdog Bersih submitted 200 objections representing more than 30,000 voters to the commission at its office in Selangor state.

Selangor is the country's richest and most populous state, with more than 2.3 million registered voters.

The Election Commission set a month-long public review of its proposed changes from Jan. 15, shortly after a court dismissed a legal challenge by the opposition-controlled government of Selangor state.

The review period ends on Wednesday and the Election Commission is expected to submit its redrawing proposals to Najib before it is presented to parliament, Bersih chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah said.

"There is no meaning for the commission to proceed with the inquiry if it rushes through the process without taking measures to address issues of malapportionment and gerrymandering," she said.

Critics say the redrawing exercise will lead to opposition-inclined voters being included in opposition-held seats, and the reshaping of constituencies to give them more distinct ethnic majorities.

Many people vote along ethnic lines in the diverse country.

A spokesman for the Election Commission was not immediately available to comment but its officials have previously denied that the process favoured certain parties, and said it was being done in a transparent manner and in accordance with the law.

Electoral boundaries were last changed in 2003, under the leadership of then-premier Mahathir Mohamad, who was also accused of manipulating the process in favour of the ruling coalition, which has held power since independence in 1957.

Mahathir, 92, who led Malaysia for 22 years, is now running as the opposition's candidate for prime minister against Najib, his former protege.

Mahathir has led calls for Najib to step down since 2015, after news broke of a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal at 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Najib denies any wrongdoing.

(This story has been refiled to edit headline)

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Praveen Menon and Robert Birsel)

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